Three Canadians are relieved to be back on dry land after their sailboat became stranded and sank in a storm in the Pacific Ocean Tuesday night.

Mitchell James, 29, his brother Bradley James, 32, and Bradley's nine-year-old son, Wesley, arrived in Honolulu Thursday morning after being rescued by the crew of a container ship in the wee hours of Wednesday.

The trio from Alberta had been on a four-week journey, sailing from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to Hilo, Hawaii, when they ran into a vicious storm Tuesday night some 450 kilometres off the coast of Hawaii.

The U.S. Coast Guard described the storm's intensity as "extreme," and winds destroyed the sail of the Canadian's 11-metre boat. When they attempted to rig a makeshift sail, their boat's mast broke off completely. Then, their boat's engine died after becoming overheated.

The three used their satellite phone to issue a call for help to the U.S. Coast Guard around 5:30 p.m. local time Tuesday and waited for rescue.

The Coast Guard called on the crew of a large container ship named the Horizon Reliance, about 240 kilometres away. The ship is owned by Horizon Lines, which is a member of a voluntary program that provides assistance to boats and ships that become stranded at sea.

"Capt. James Kelleher and the crew of the 893-ft. Horizon Reliance container ship were directed by the U.S. Coast Guard to alter course at full speed to assist the 33-ft. sailboat and its crew of three," Horizon Lines said in a news release.

Shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, the ship located the trio, bobbing aboard their boat in the dark waters.

"Weather conditions were poor, with southwesterly winds gusting to 40 knots and sea swells in the 20-ft. range," Horizon Lines said.

But just as the rescue began, the waves dashed the men's sailboat up against the massive tanker, badly damaging the sailboat and causing it to take on water.

Within minutes, the boat went down, throwing the trio into the sea. Thankfully, the men were wearing lifejackets with strobe lights, which enabled rescuers to keep them in sight in the dark.

The crew of the Horizon Reliance dropped a rope ladder over the side of the ship and threw a life ring in the water. They were able to pull Mitchell James over so that he could climb up.

Meanwhile, the waves had pushed Bradley James and his son around to the other side of the ship.

"While they were dealing with Mitch, we just got further and further away," Bradley James told reporters in Honolulu Thursday.

While the ship tried to maneouvre around, James' son, Wesley, started to suffer the effects of the cold water.

"It didn't help that he'd done all these Cub Scout things and had learned about hypothermia and so he knew what was happening to him and he was a little bit worried," James said, choking back tears.

"But I just kept saying, ‘You're fine.'"

After close to another hour, the crew of the tanker was finally able to pull James and his son from the water. James said the entire crew of the ship was there to greet them aboard.

"It was just a gauntlet of happiness. It was all grown men and most of us had tears in our eyes," he said, again choking back his own tears.

The crew gave the trio warm blankets, a place to sleep, and a hearty breakfast the next morning.

James said they likely won't be doing any more sailing anytime soon, but are looking forward to raising enough money to buy another boat one day.